Great Moments in Sustainability History, Part I

Pontiac Torpedo cars near completion on the production line at Pontiac, Michigan, circa 1946. Photograph by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Close

Pontiac Torpedo cars near completion on the production line at Pontiac, Michigan, circa... Read More

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Pontiac Torpedo cars near completion on the production line at Pontiac, Michigan, circa 1946. Photograph by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fortune magazine polled businessmen about their responsibilities beyond the balance sheet. The questions are more charming and verbose than most posed by contemporary pollsters. They also offer a nice snapshot of how business media tackled what we now call "sustainability":

A few years ago it was frequently said that businessmen ought to acquire a 'social consciousness.' What was usually meant was that businessmen were responsible for the consequences of their actions in a sphere somewhat wider than that covered by their profit-and-loss statements. Do you think that businessmen should recognize such responsibilities and do their best to fulfill them?

  • Yes: 95.5 percent
  • No: 1.6 percent
  • Depends: 4.7 percent
  • Don't Know: 0.2 percent

About what proportion of the businessmen you know would you rate as having a 'social consciousness' of this sort?

  • None: 0.4 percent
  • Less than 10%: 11.8 percent
  • About a Quarter: 22.2 percent
  • About a Half: 29.2 percent
  • About Three-Quarters: 26.7 percent
  • All: 3 percent
  • Don't Know: 6.7 percent

This Sustainability Moment occurred in March 1946.

Source: Bowen, Howard. The Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, p. 44.

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.

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